Wednesday, October 1, 2008. Chaos and violence continue, Iraq falls off the news radar, the big 'handover' takes place, and more.
Today was 'handover' for the "Awakeing" Council (also known as Sawha and "Sons of Iraq"). The Sunni 'movement' began in Al Anbar Province in 2005 when the US military put Sunni thugs on the US tax dollar payroll. Puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki, who staffed his ministries with Shi'ite thugs, has long seen the "Awakening" Councils as a threat to his supremacy in the puppet government. The late Lt Gen William E. Odom testifed before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee April 2nd and noted of the "Awakening" Council members:
Let me emphasize that our new Sunni friends insist on being paid for their loyalty. I have heard, for example, a rough estimate that the cost in one area of about 100 square kilometers is $250,000 per day. And periodically they threaten to defect unless their fees are increased. You might want to find out the total costs for these deals forecasted for the next several years, because they are not small and they do not promise to end. Remember, we do not own these people. We merely rent them. And they can break their lease at any moment.
The US has armed, trained and paid both sides in the conflict. Some might point out that to be 'needed' in the region, it helps to play both sides. During the same hearing, War Hawk Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations got the attention of Senator Barbara Boxer:
Barbara Boxer: Did you just say that Maliki uses the Iraqi security forces as his militia? Did you say that?
Barbara Boxer: If that's true and Maliki uses his military as a force to bring about peace -- that's scandalous and that we would have paid $20 million to train [it] and someone that we consider an expert says it's a militia, that's shocking.
Now the two extremist groups (neither of whom represent the bulk of Sunni and Shia Iraqis) are being 'partnered' and at a time when distrust runs high. Last month Charles Levinson (USA Today) reported on some of the suspicions of "Awakening" Council members and quoted Mullah Shihab al-Safi stating of the al-Maliki government sudden rush to arrest "Awakening" Council members, "Our government is after us. We sacrificed hundreds of our sons to drive al-Qaeda out. Now the government says we are no different than terrorists." And this tension was well known long before today. Dropping back to the September 11 snapshot:
Meanwhile the "Awakening" Council is back in the news. These are the Sunni thugs on the US payroll ($300 a month for males, $280 for females) because, as US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker told Congress repeatedly in April, paying them off means they don't attack US equipment or soldiers. That's a lot of lunch money to fork over each money to be safe on the 'playground.' Puppet of the occupation, Nouri al-Maliki, has long been vocally opposed to the "Awakening" Councils. That's because he staffed with Shi'ite thugs. The two most extreme segments of Iraq are at war with one another. al-Maliki has made it very clear he has little use for the "Awakening" Councils and his staff has echoed that repeatedly. With US Senators and House Reps loudly objecting to the tax payer monies being spent on this program (one Petraeus hails) last April, there's been a push to have the puppet government (sitting on billions) pay the "Awakening" Council itself. (Senator Barbara Boxer was especially vocal in April asking why the puppet government wasn't paying them.) The new talk is that al-Maliki will begin paying them but distrust remains on both sides.
Nicholas Spangler and Mohammed al-Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) report that despite for-show motions in public on the part of the puppet government, "Awakening" Council leaders remain skepitcal (with one saying after the latest press conference, "I don't trust a word they say") that the puppet government will take charge and pay the 99,000 "Awakening" members or that 20,000 will be absorbed "into the police and army" starting October 1st. Thursday's press conference found Gen Abud Ganbar declaring, "The government has ordered that monthly salaries be paid until we can put (Awakening members) into security forces or ministires. Payments will continue until they find jobs." That leaves "Awakening" leaders skeptical and the reporters quote various voices explaining why including the claim that the puppet government has hired al Qaeda members. Khalid al-Ansary and Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters) report on the puppet government side where grave doubts are repeatedly raised ("But he also expressed distaste for some members of the predominantly Sunni Arab Awakening movement, an aversion shared by some other officials.") as is the argument that there is need "to weed out" certain members. In other words, Thursday's press conference reassured no one and the tensions remain.
September 23rd, Erica Goode (New York Times) reported on the tensions in Baghdad as the transfer of "Awakening" to the puppet government approaches and notes that "Awakening" Councils in Adhamiya "have posed increasing problems. . . . Some residents complain that the men, not a few of them swaggering street toughs, use their power to intimidate people. Sometimes violence erupts." At the start of last month, Rania Abouzeid (Time magazine) was quoting the "Awakening" Council spokesperson Mohammed Mahmood al Natah on his dismay over the 'handover', "We wanted it to be postponed but the decision had already been made by the government and we cannot change it." Despite the very public nature of the tensions and the fears on both sides, things appear to have been rushed through with very little planning.
Near the end of September, Lt Gen Lloyd Austin gave a briefing where he praised the "Awakening" Council and declared, "One of our primary focus areas as we move foward is transitioning the Sons of Iraq program to the Iraqi government. The volunteer movement that started in Anbar and spread across the rest of the country significantly contributed to the security successes that we are now taking advantage of. The Sons of Iraq have paid a heavy price fight al Qaeda and other insurgent groups, and it's important that the government of Iraq responsibly transition them into meaningful employment. Prime Minister Maliki has assured me that the government will help those who help the people of Iraq. And so next week in Baghdad the government will accept responsibility for approximately 54,000 Sons of Iraq, and we will be there to assist in the transfer." And yet for all the words expressed, no planning appeared to have gone into what happened next, a point NPR's JJ Sutherland repeatedly attempted to explore. The exchange ended with this:
JJ Sutherland: Sir, I understand that but I'[m saying, "What happens in October? I understand eventually you want to have them be plumbers or electricians. But in October, there are a lot of checkpoints that have been manned by the Sons of Iraq. Are those checkpoints all going to go away? Are they only going to be staffed by Iraqi police now? That's my question. It's not eventually, it's next month.
Lt Gen Lloyd Austin: Yeah. Next month the Iraqi government will begin to work their way through this. And there's no question that some of them, some of the checkpoints, many of the checkpoints, will be -- will be manned by Iraqi security forces. In some cases, there may be Sons of Iraq that will be taksed to help with that work. But in most cases, I think the Iraqi government will be looking to transition people into different types of jobs.
That was September 22nd and the US military was apparently operating under the notion that things could be figured ("begin to work their way through this") at some point in October. Ann Scott Tyson (Washington Post) reported this morning on the new Pentagon report to Congress which cited the Pentagon's belief in the importance of the "Awakening" Councils and also noted the "[t]ension between the government and Sunni volunteers . . . in Diyala Province, where the Sunni population is fearful that the government is using military opeations ostensibly aimed at al-Qaeda in Iraq as a pretext to 'arrest, intimidate, or kill moderate Sunnis and SOI groups who are otherwise interested in participating the political process'." The Pentagon's report to Congress is [PDF format warning] "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq" and it hails the "Awakening" Councils:
The emergence of the SoI remains one of the major developments of the past 18 months; however, the integration and employment of SoI remain a significant challenge. The SoI provide significant security benefits to their local communities by protecting neighborhoods, securing key infrastructure and roads, and identifying malign activity. What began primarily as a Sunni effort has now taken hold in many Shi'a and mixed Sunni-Shi'a communities as well. Today there are over 98,000 SoI contributing to local security.
If the Pentagon believes that one has to wonder how they missed the various "Awakening" Council members speaking to the press repeatedly about either being on strike (while at a checkpoint) because there was an arrest warrant out for an "Awakening" member or telling the press that they'd learned their checkpoint would be shut down after the 'handover'?
Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) sketched out the basics, "Unemployment in Sunni areas remains high, basic services are still poor, distrust of the United States and the Shiite-led Iraqi government is widespread and fears of Shiite militias persist. On Wednesday, al Qaisi and 54,419 other men in Baghdad province will transition to Iraqi government control. That's more than half of the Sons of Iraq (SOI) who're now being paid by the U.S. military to protect neighborhoods -- and in some cases not to shoot at American troops." John Hendren (ABC News) reports: "Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told ABC News Iraq plans to give 20 percent of the nation's 100,000 Sons of Iraq jobs to the police force and army. 'I don't think that the Iraqi government neither the Multi National Forces could achieve such success and security without their participation,' al-Dabbagh told ABC News. But here in the small village of Jambariyah, an al Qaeda stronghold north of Baghdad until early this year, just one of 70 Sons of Iraq has been hired to date, and of the 1,200 in the city of Dujail, none." Despite those (and other) realities, the 'handover' took place today. Mary Beth Sheridan (Washington Post) reports, "The handover of the armed groups was a low-key affair in Baghdad, where government offices are closed for a six-day holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The transition was largely symbolic, since the U.S. military plans to stay involved with the groups for several months as the Iraqi government begins paying their salaries and decides how to employ them." Last month, Erica Goode and Muhafer al-Husaini (New York Times) noted that Brig Gen Tarek Abdul Hameed declare that the puppet government in Baghdad would indeed pick up their payrolls for the "Awakening" Councils -- as did many outlets. However, Tim Albone (Times of London) explains, "Senior US military sources said that America would pay the salaries of any members of the force who did not find alternative employment." UPI cites KUNA to inform that, according to Maj Gen Jeffery Hammond, though the 'handover' took place today al-Maliki's government will not begin paying until November 10th. Meanwhile Nizar Latif (UAE's The National) offers this evaluation, "However, the US military and the Sahwa themselves are concerned that the Iraqi government may simply disband the councils and push the former insurgents back into the role of active insurgents. In essence it would be a repeat of a former devastating mistake, when America disbanded the Iraqi army in 2003, leaving thousands of trained soldiers without jobs and a score to settle against the US military."
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing that wounded four people .
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports an armed clash in Diyala Province that claimed 2 lives and four police officers wounded.
Moving over to the US presidential race. David Hoff (Education Week) explores what the presidential choices mean in terms of the No Child Left Behind Act (also known as "No Learning, Just Crib Notes") since both GOP presidential nominee John McCain and Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama support it. Hoff notes three who are for quality education (first step, end NCLB):
Ralph Nader, who is running as an independent, says "federal policy needs to be transformed from one that uses punishments to control schools, to one that supports teachers and students; from one that relies primarily on standardized tests, to one that encourages high-quality assessments. Broader measures of student learning are needed that include reliance of classroom-based assessments along with testing."
Bob Barr, the Libertarian Party candidate, writes: "Turning education over to the federal government, as through such legislation as the No Child Left Behind Act has not worked. Trying to fix failing schools with more money and regulations also has failed to do anything other than waste taxpayer money without results." He proposes ending the federal government's role in education and turning decisions back to state and local governments.
The Green Party, which has nominated Cynthia McKinney to be its candidate, writes in its draft platform that "the federal Act titled No Child Left Behind punishes where it should assist and hinders its own declared purpose. It should be repealed or greatly redesigned." The federal government's roles should be limited to ensuring students across states have a "level playing field," the platform says.
Hoff notes that Barr and McKinney did vote for NCLB in 2001 while both were members of the US House of Representatives. Anita Zimmerman (The Chetek Alert) covers many presidential candidates and we'll note this section:
The state's Green party has many of the same challenges. They don't get much media coverage, their candidates are rarely invited to debates, and their resources are too limited for national advertisement. Like the Constitution party, there are "scattered individuals" but no cohesive Barron County organization, says Jeff Peterson, co-founder of the Wisconsin Green Party.
Peterson, a 20-year veteran of the party and a Luck resident, believes presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney appeals to urban voters and young people. Peterson's been "politicking from his computer," he adds.
On the national level, the Green party's base is split between 20-somethings and 50-somethings, Peterson explains. While the party enjoys support on college campuses, it has never succeeded in garnering the 5-percent vote necessary to "unlock all sorts of resources," especially the monetary kind.
Peterson's goal for the election is to "maintain a presence." Voters need third-party options, he believes, and candidates like McKinney, a former congresswoman from Georgia, take stances on issues Republicans and Democrats may not address.
Ralph Nader is the independent presidential candidate and Team Nader's Ashley Sanders explains:
Many people tend to see the economic crisis as a problem from nowhere, divorcing it from the deliberate and systematic dismantling of regulation and oversight waged by the corporate sector in its fight for ever-greater profits. Many of these same people view Barack Obama's candidacy in similar but opposite terms, seeing him as the change candidate from nowhere who will save our economic and political our economic and political system--divorcing his hope message from his actual platforms and legislative history. In part two of her February analysis of Obama's campaign, Pam Martens makes the connection between our rootless critiques of the economy and our rootless support of Obama. When the same people causing a crisis are funding the man claiming to solve a crisis, we can expect more of the same.
Governor Sarah Palin is the GOP nominee for vice president and yesterday Katie Couric interviewed the McCain-Palin ticket for The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric (link has text and video and click here for transcript):
"I do," Palin said. "I'm a feminist who, uh, believes in equal rights and I believe that women certainly today have every opportunity that a man has to succeed, and to try to do it all, anyway. And I'm very, very thankful that I've been brought up in a family where gender hasn't been an issue. You know, I've been expected to do everything growing up that the boys were doing. We were out chopping wood and you're out hunting and fishing and filling our freezer with good wild Alaskan game to feed our family. So it kinda started with that."
Today, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael J. Durant (Ret.) issued the following statement on Joe Biden's apparently false accounts of near-misses on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq:
"Senator Biden claimed at a debate last year that he'd been 'shot at' while visiting Iraq. And he has claimed repeatedly, most recently last week, that his helicopter was 'forced down' in Afghanistan -- leaving his audience with the impression that it was fire from the Taliban which had grounded the aircraft. Neither of these stories appears to be true, and Senator Biden has never accounted for the discrepancies.
"I've been on a helicopter that was 'forced down' by enemy fire, and I've been 'shot at.' Neither is easily confused with being caught in a snow storm or awakened by a loud bang in the night. Senator Biden has a responsibility to come clean on what actually happened, and explain why he would ever say such things to the American people. And with the Vice Presidential Debate coming up on Thursday, it is incumbent on the news media to ask Senator Biden the tough questions -- as they have so far failed to do -- and examine his responses closely for inconsistencies of the kind we've witnessed in recent months.
"The American people expect and deserve leaders who tell the truth about their record and their experiences, and a news media that holds all candidates -- no matter their party -- to the same standard."
When it was Hillary, it was BIG NEWS. Was it just because she's a woman? Was it just because the press wants to elect Barack? Tomorrow night Joe Biden and Sarah Palin are scheduled to debate. Prior to the start of the vice presidential debate, (3:45 p.m. local time), Senator McCain will be participating in the Women's Town Hall Meeting in Denver.